A Broken Mirror Joined Together Again

Princess Lechang of the Southern Chen Dynasty was given half a broken mirror before being separated from her husband by war. (Image: wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
Princess Lechang of the Southern Chen Dynasty was given half a broken mirror before being separated from her husband by war. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The Chinese idiom, “a broken mirror joined together again,” expresses the idea of a couple being reconciled or reunited after a period of separation. It has its origins from a story about Princess Lechang of the Southern Chen Dynasty and her husband, the scholar and poet Xu Deyan.

In the last years of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (A.D. 420-589), Yang Jian, the prime minister of the Northern Dynasty, killed the Emperor and set himself on the throne as the new Emperor, establishing the Sui Dynasty. Then he sent troops to attack the Southern Dynasty.

Although the country was in trouble, Princess Lechang’s brother, the Emperor Chen Shu Bao, only gave thought to enjoying his life and having fun all day long without the slightest awareness of his responsibilities of office. The princess’s husband, Xu Deyan, predicted that the country would fall to the Sui Dynasty and as a result, he and his wife would be separated in the war. He said to his wife: “Being talented and pretty, you will likely be captured and fall into the hands of the Sui nobles.” In order to get together again in the future, he divided one bronze mirror into two halves, and each of them kept a half. They agreed to take the broken mirror to sell in the Beijing market during the Lantern Festival every year. The broken mirror was a token for them to meet.

Soon, the Southern Dynasty fell, and Princess Lechang was indeed separated from her husband after the war just as Xu Deyan had predicted. He kept his promise to her and took the half bronze mirror to the Beijing market during the Lantern Festival. Although he did not see Princess Lechang, he found that a servant was also attempting to sell a broken bronze mirror. From the servant, he learned that Princess Lechang had become a concubine of Yang Su, Chief Minister of the Sui Dynasty. He was very sad and wrote a poem on the broken mirror belonging to Princess Lechang, saying that although the husband and wife were still alive, they could not get together again. After reading the poem, Princess Lechang cried bitterly and refused to eat. After learning the story, Yang Su was so moved that he returned Princess Lechang to Xu Deyan. The couple was finally reunited. Later, this story became an idiom — “a broken mirror joined together again” — and has been used as a metaphor for a couple’s reunion after they lose touch or break up.

Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Helen

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